Winner of the Baloise Art Prize 2004.
At the 2004 Art Basel fair, Aleksandra Mir gave an insight into her project “The Big Umbrella.” This multi-part installation, full of humor and melancholy, persuaded the Baloise Art Prize jury to single her out for one of their two awards.
The central element of “The Big Umbrella” project is an oversized black umbrella. The largest umbrellas available commercially have space for four people beneath them. Mir’s umbrella is more than twice that size and offers shelter for as many as 16 people. It was custom-made by specialists with meticulous craftsmanship. The result is a fully functioning umbrella that looks much the same as any other—the difference being that its sheer size makes it, depending on the situation, either an object of admiration or of astonishment.
The artist went walking with the umbrella in six different places: first in Paris, “where it often rains.”(1) The following year, she did the same in London, Dresden, and Copenhagen, Martinique and New York. The photographs document each of these performative urban excursions.
In each of the places visited by the artist, “The Big Umbrella” acted as a catalyst “to inspect how the elements of weather and community interact with each other and differ.”(2) The umbrella is thus both sculptural performance prop and functional everyday object that anyone can relate to. But its dimensions alter that relationship, making the familiar seem fantastical, while the fantastical shows the familiar in a new light.
In retrospect Mir sums it up as follows: “The Big Umbrella was designed to shield up to 16 people from the rain. It was a cheerful and simply idyllic structure, but did 16 people want to crowd together to avoid getting wet? Does bad weather affect people differently in different parts of the world? To find out, I took my big umbrella on the road between 2003 and 2004, visiting six cities in as many countries. Traveling the world with a familiar object of uncanny proportions can have some unexpected effects. While The Big Umbrella proved useful as a tool for plucking down stray balls from trees, its unwieldy size on busy streets turned altruistic motives into harassment. Providing a shelter, it brought some strangers momentarily together while alienating others, and in its most salient moments, simply amplified the solitude of the bearer.”(3)
(1) www.aleksandramir.info/projects/bigumbrella/bigumbrella.html (August 2006).
(3) https://www.aleksandramir.info/projects/the-big-umbrella/ (last accessed November 2019).